Ramdev vs Sri Sri: The ayurveda market prepares for the battle of the gurus

This is how you do it.
This is how you do it.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri/EPA/Manjunath Kiran
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The spirits are rising in the Indian herbal and ayurvedic products market.

Yoga guru Ramdev-led Patanjali Ayurved’s growing clout in the consumer-goods sector has left others drooling for that pie.

The Sri Sri Ayurveda (SSA) Trust, the consumer-goods firm set up by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation, now plans to launch 1,000 franchise stores under the brand Sri Sri Tattva, The Economic Times newspaper reported on Aug. 22. It will sell herbal toothpaste, soaps, staples, spices, pickles, and juices, the newspaper said, quoting SSA chief executive officer Tej Katpitia. Also in the works is an extended range of products spanning food and home-care categories.

“People have now accepted ayurvedic products in their daily lives, and we believe our brand offerings are different compared to those of existing players,” The Economic Times quoted Katpitia as saying.

Spiritual awakening to soaps

AOL, founded in 1981, promotes meditation and yoga for overall well-being. Over the last two decades, Ravi Shankar has become a popular face on television in India and globally, and AOL is now worth Rs234 crore (as of 2016).

In 2003, AOL set up SSA and began selling ayurvedic products under the Sri Sri brand, though it was limited in range and distribution then. Its retail footprint today includes modern trade and general trade, besides its e-commerce portal Srisritattva.com. SSA’s products are also available on Amazon and Bigbasket.com. On its website, the company lists its health drink Ojasvita, herbal toothpaste Sudanta, ghee made of cow’s milk, and honey, among others as its highest-selling products.

However, in the last five years, India’s consumer-goods landscape has evolved dramatically, partly due to Patanjali’s spectacular rise and its ambition to make Ayurveda a mainstay of Indian households. Its revenue grew by a stunning 2,254% from financial year 2011-12 to reach more than Rs10,500 crore in the financial year 2017.

This, along with the growing consumer acceptance of herbal and ayurvedic products, has pushed even consumer goods giants like Hindustan Unilever, Colgate, and L’oreal to explore the segment further.

SSA sees itself as a natural fit. So, stronger distribution and more products apart, it is now spending more on marketing. In October 2016, it roped in badminton champion PV Sindhu to endorse Ojasvita.

However, it may have significant catching up to do. In 2016, Ramdev’s firm had over 10,000 dedicated stores alone. In 2015, it entered into a tie-up with retail king Kishore Biyani to sell its products through his Future Group’s Big Bazaar supermarket chains and other ventures.

Can Art of Living also master the art of selling?